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Texas correctional officer arrested in online child sex offense sting

26 men are facing charges after a two-month sting operation that investigated Internet crimes against children

By Cindy Horswell
Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON, Texas — A Cypress-Fairbanks ISD band director, a Houston firefighter and a Texas prison guard — all now relieved of their duties — are among 26 men facing charges arising from a two-month sting operation that investigated Internet crimes against children, authorities said Wednesday.

“I hope this gives you a picture of what a true pedophile might look like,” Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said at a news conference in The Woodlands, pointing to a photo display of the arrested suspects. “They come from all walks of life, all ages and all races.”

He warned parents to be vigilant in controlling their children’s use of social media applications such as Grindr, Tinder, Vine, Instagram and others where investigators have found predators trolling for underage children, both girls and boys.

“This is a global problem that knows no social or economic barriers. No one agency alone can fight it,” said Brian Moskowitz, who heads the Houston regional office of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which provided computer forensic experts for the investigation.

Homeland Security officials worked with the Montgomery County district attorney’s office, county constables and Conroe police to mount the undercover online investigation dubbed, “Operation Safe Summer,” which began in April and lasted through May.

Among the suspects that the operation snared was Adam Hymel, the band director at Truitt Middle School in the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD for the past three years. But as soon as school authorities learned of his arrest May 18 on a charge of online solicitation of a minor, Hymel was placed on administrative leave.

Hymel, 32, whom authorities believe had the most exposure to children, will remain on leave pending the outcome of his felony charge.

A 2001 graduate of Dulles High School in Sugar Land, Hymel graduated magna cum lade with a music education degree from the University of Houston, where he played in the Spirit of Houston Marching Band, according to his LinkedIn profile. He also had helped direct bands at Arnold Middle and Aragon Middle schools in the same district.

“Due to the serious nature of the allegation, the teacher was immediately placed on administrative leave and did not return to the campus,” said Nicole Ray, the school district’s spokeswoman. “Although the charges did not involve any of our students, parents of his students were notified. The safety of our students is our top priority and this type of behavior will not be tolerated.”

Similarly, Houston firefighter Jay Stamper was terminated the day after his June 4 arrest for the same charge, the department said. Stamper, 25, of Magnolia, who’d worked for Houston’s fire department for more than two years, had been assigned to Station 46 in south Houston. He was also terminated from his job as a Magnolia fire department volunteer, Ligon said. Neither Hymel now Stamper could be reached for comment Wednesday.

The third high-profile suspect was Printel Vellon, 24, of Huntsville, who worked as a correctional officer at the maximum-security, all-male Ferguson Unit. He informed investigators of his arrest on May 21 for the online solicitation charge, and then submitted his resignation five days later while his off-duty conduct was being investigated, said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He had served 18 months as a prison guard.

Reached Wednesday evening by phone at his home, Vellon said investigators had pretended to be a 15-year-old girl and that he agreed to meet but that “I shouldn’t have done that on my part.”

“But my intent was not to have sex with her, but to go tell her it was wrong to get on the website, that she could get hurt,” Vellon said.

Of those arrested in the sting operation, 23 individuals were charged with the felony offense of online solicitation of a minor. Two others were charged with possession of child pornography, and one is charged with promotion of child pornography.

The suspects range in age from 22 to 71. They live in the east Texas communities of Houston, Humble, Spring, Cypress, Katy, Huntsville, Stafford, Conroe, Porter, New Caney, Magnolia and Montgomery, but one traveled from as far away as Memphis, Tenn.

“The effectiveness of this Task Force is reflected by these predators being arrested and charged,” said Mary Nan Huffman, the task force’s division chief, in a statement. “We will continue these efforts until these offenders realize that you do not prey on the children of Montgomery County.”

Since the task force was formed in 2012, authorities say 170 individuals have been arrested and charged with 315 crimes against children. It is part of a regional task force involving 62 counties that is working to protect children, said Richard Hahn of Houston, who is the commander.

Ligon said that whenever a large sting operation takes place, the online chatter from those wanting to prey on children “dries up for awhile.” That’s why these task forces will continue their operations, he said.

He added that investigators target child pornography as well as online solicitation crimes, because research shows that a vast majority of those in possession of child porn will become “touch offenders” who want to assault a child in the future.

In solicitation cases, suspects connect online with individuals whom they think are young children but instead turn out to be undercover officers, he said. These suspects then arrange a meeting for a “sexual dalliance” but are arrested when they show up.

“They can’t claim that it was just a sexual fantasy and they weren’t really going to do it,” he said.

Moskowitz said predators will groom children to get them to do what they want. He said there are even explicit guidebooks that can be found with just a click of a mouse that tell them how to manipulate kids into complying.

Two of the suspects, Jessie Scarborough of Huntsville and Jerry Baty of Porter, have already pleaded guilty to solicitation and each received a 52-year prison sentence, authorities said.

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